Carbs are not the enemy. Carbs are not evil. Carbs will not kill you.
Simply put, carbohydrates are your body's main source of energy. You couldn't live or work without them.
Carbohydrates are built up of simple sugars linked together including glucose. The body requires a continual intake of carbohydrates to feed the brain, which uses glucose (a form of sugar) as its primary energy source.
Not all carbs are created equal:
To properly appreciate why carbohydrates are important, you have to know the difference between simple carbs and complex carbs.
Simple carbs like white bread, processed foods, and pastries are absorbed quickly in the body—leading to blood sugar spikes and subsequent crashes—and are often found in not-so-great-for-you foods and drinks like cake and soda.
Complex carbs, meanwhile, are found in foods like whole grains, sweet potatoes, beans, and fruits and veggies. They’re absorbed by the body more slowly and thus have less of a hit on your blood sugar, all while providing those above-mentioned nutrients your body needs.
However, even simple carbs have a place in a healthy diet. Knowing the timing (when to eat them) and portion (how much to eat) is the key. For example, one cup or fist sized portion of white rice or pasta is healthy. Instead of eating two or three cups of cooked spaghetti, stick to one cup and round of the rest of your “carbs” with vegetables.
It’s also important to understand that we risk losing a lot of nuances when we pigeonhole entire food groups as being either good or bad. and more often than not, grains or “gluten” gets an unnecessarily bad rap. The truth is that there are just too many types of grains and ways of processing them. So, let’s gain a better understanding by breaking down the anatomy of grains, the seeds taken from grain crops such as wheat, barley, rye, and rice.
A whole, unprocessed grain kernel consists of three parts:
- Bran - The grains hard outer layer, which contains antioxidants, minerals, and fiber
- Germ - The core of the grain which, along with the nutrients found in bran, contains proteins and small amounts of plant fats as well as vitamin B and E
- Endosperm - This is the largest part of the grain, and it consists mostly of carbohydrates proteins
Refined grains have the bran and germ removed making them nutrient-poor but high in calories, which is why they are sometimes referred to ‘’empty calories’’. Since refined grains aren’t accompanied by the same amount of fiber found whole grains, they cause rapid spikes in your blood sugar which can lead to hunger pangs and hard-to-control cravings. Examples of refined grains are white flour and white rice, and you can find refined grains in most of the baked goods and other processed treats most of us like to indulge in from time to time.
Whole grains, on the other hand, retain 100% per cent of the original kernel. The bran and germ considerably boost the nutritional profile of grain, providing about 25% more protein and 50-75% more nutrients than their refined counterparts. Carbohydrates, one of the three main macronutrients, can be found in abundance in whole (and refined) grains. Though you can safely choose to eat very few carbohydrates and get your energy from other macronutrients, healthy carbohydrates are a valuable source of energy for those who don’t react badly to them.
What makes the carbohydrate content interesting in whole grains, is that they are far richer in fiber than their refined counterparts. Due to the fiber content, they contain less digestible carbohydrate, making digestion less rapid. This contributes to a lower and more gradual rise in blood sugar, keeping you full for longer and potentially reducing your chances of developing diabetes and cardiac disease.
Carbs fuel your workouts:
When it comes to exercise fuel, you might think protein is your BFF. But you shouldn’t forget about carbs either. Unlike protein and healthy fats that are stored in the body, carbohydrates are more readily available—aka they digest quickly and work their way into the blood stream faster for an immediate surge of energy.
Post-workout, carbs help you recover the energy you lost. Getting carbs into your bloodstream will energize you faster after an intense sweat session than a meal with just fats and protein, because again, they digest more quickly than those other macronutrients. If you skip the carbs, your body is going to depend solely on the protein that’s stored in your body for energy, taking it away from the important work of repairing and building tired muscles.
But here’s where good portion control comes in again. A serving the size of your fist, balanced with protein and healthy fats, will give your body what it needs to recover. Give your body too many carbs (yes, even the “good” complex kind) and you’ll venture into “undoing” your workout
Carbs literally make you happy:
Is there any feeling quite as magical as digging into a bowl full of mac and cheese, or eating a slice of pizza? Thank carbohydrates for that. Carbs make us happier—and not just because they’re delicious, but they actually have a chemical reaction because they boost your brain’s release of serotonin -chemical in the brain that helps you feel calm and satisfied.
And while no one can argue with the happiness-boosting powers of a chocolate chip cookie, it’s important to balance out the rest of your day and pick complex carbs low on the glycemic index, otherwise the whole mood-lifting effect they bring will backfire. Processed foods will cause a blood sugar spike, so your mood will be elevated, but then you’ll crash later, which will lead to feeling cranky, tired, and craving more of these foods,” Carbs that are low on the glycemic index—like fruit, beans, legumes, and even pasta—are a slower burn and actually help balance your mood.
Also, balance out the simple- and low-glycemic carbs with protein and healthy fats so they are absorbed into the body slower, which helps stabilize blood sugar and mood. You’ll feel great, sans that pesky crash (and subsequent mood flop) later on.
Whole Roasted Sweet Potatoes aka “Sweet Potato Pie”
With this recipe, we’re going to recreate a favorite of Chef Ken’s childhood, coal roasted whole sweet potatoes! But obviously, since not all of us have giant woks and coal just lying around, we’re going to do this in a house oven friendly way! To start, we need sweet potatoes - preferably Japanese purple sweet potatoes, but regular ones will also do!
- Wash them thoroughly so you can eat the whole thing including the skin because that’s where a lot of the nutrients are
- Chuck them into freezer for two hours
- Preheat oven to 450F
- Line sheet pan with parchment paper
- Place frozen sweet potatoes on sheet pan
- Place in oven for 1 hour to 90 minutes
- Check for skin separation and “bleeding” sugar – you’ll see leakages of brown sugary liquid.